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Top German geoscientist fined after facing charges of fraudulent expense claims

A court has fined Reinhard Hüttl, a former German national academy president, in the wake of allegations he made fraudulent expense claims while he was head of the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ). Hüttl, a soil scientist who advised the German government and Chancellor Angela Merkel on many occasions, says he won’t object to the €58,800 fine—representing 6.5 months of his current salary—ordered by the district court of the city of Potsdam on 18 November. Hüttl avoids a public trial by not objecting to the summary punishment, but the fine becomes legally binding and equivalent to a criminal conviction.

Hüttl was fired from GFZ  in January, after a whistleblower informed the federal research ministry and GFZ leadership about possible compliance breaches. Police raided 12 properties, including Hüttl’s homes and offices, and in November the state prosecutor accused him of 21 cases of fraud related to expense claims. The prosecutor initially also investigated allegations that Hüttl accepted illegal benefits from Chinese organizations, but Hüttl disputed those claims and the prosecutor did not press additional charges.

Although Hüttl previously said he would contest the fraud allegations, he now concedes that he billed expenses “without the necessary diligence” and made mistakes due to high workload. “I assume responsibility,” he says, while stressing that he is not admitting guilt. “I never wanted to enrich myself.”

Since January, Hüttl has stepped down from many senior positions in science and industry. He was vice president of the renowned Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science and Humanities (BBAW), a member of the supervisory board of the car manufacturer BMW, and a long-time president of acatech, Germany’s engineering-focused national academy. Following Hüttl’s resignation, BBAW announced it will ask members a mandatory list of questions, modeled on rules for the U.S. national academies, to identify potential conflicts of interest like those Hüttl was alleged to have. And GFZ has since installed a compliance management system. After leaving GFZ, Hüttl became CEO of the consultancy European Energy Innovation, which promotes hydrogen energy.

Source: Science Mag